I’ve been hearing a lot about balance and self-care lately, especially from my friends with children. Modern women feel pulled in tooModern women feel pulled in too many directions many directions, and wrestle with doubt. “Is that baby food organic? Have you thought about cloth diapers? Is your 2-year-old reading yet?” They worry about how to manage their demanding schedules, and whether or not they are doing enough. With opinions everywhere on how to parent, and with many women working to make ends meet, they carry a lot on their shoulders. Luckily, G‑d made those shoulders strong! Having fought (and continuing to fight) my own battles with balance, here’s what has helped me find peace of mind to lighten the load.

1. Redefining Balance for Myself


A rabbi once came to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, complaining that he was tired from fulfilling all of his obligations. In response, the Rebbe said: “I’m also tired. So what?” Now far be it from the Rebbe to be too hard on someone; he had a distinct manner of knowing what each person needed. Perhaps what this rabbi needed, as I myself often do, was the encouragement to continue even though we may be tired, not an excuse to quit. Perhaps he needed to feel like even the busiest people can get tired, but that they also keep on challenging themselves. Hearing this story gave me an “ah-ha” moment. Spiritual permission to be tired!

And who isn’t a little tired these days? Being tired doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong; in fact, it could mean that you’re doing a great many things right. I discovered that I don’t need to be less busy; I just need to be busy with important things.

This required me to make some changes. For example, I have to work, but I can work where I want to. After my daughter was born, I changed jobs, found something that enables me to work from home, and utilizes my skills and education, and I am so much happier. Even better, I get to help people through my work.

We seem to value busyness. I continually hear people saying, “Sorry, I couldn’t pick up the phone. I was just too busy.” At times, it feels as if we’re competing with one another in the “Most Busy in America” pageant. But busyness is not intrinsically valuable; productivity is.

The Rebbe encouraged people to increase in Torah learning, in acts of charity, in service of G‑d, in things of value. We should be “doing.” Many people work hard towards their retirement, only to find themselves bored because life is about doing. It’s about doing that which truly matters.

If you’re feeling imbalanced, try clearing out some of the “stuff” and establishing your own personal ratio of “have to’s” to “want to’s.”

2. Adjusting My Perspective


Then there are things in life that must be done; it’s part of being a grown-up. Bills must be paid, food must be cooked, dishes must be washed, children must be bathed, laundry must be washed and put away. Sometimes, life can feel like an endless list of “musts.” I had to make a huge mental shift regarding the “have to’s” in my life—both in understanding their value and in my attitude towards completing them.

When my daughter was a newborn, it was difficult to feel productive when my schedule consisted of “nurse, change, hold, repeat.” As most days wind to a close, I’m tired, but it’s a happy tired I had to practice believing that having a healthy and happy baby was enough proof of the value of my input. I used to make “To Do” lists each day that consisted of things I knew I would be doing anyway, but the mental impact for me made a difference. The time and effort we invest in our children may sometimes feel monotonous, but it is far from purposeless. The same can be said of housework or professional responsibilities. If we were chosen to do it, then we must be pretty important!

And sometimes, when it’s been a long day and all the positive thinking in the world doesn’t help, fake it till you make it. Some things are always going to radiate “have to.” For example, I have to change my daughter’s diaper. (I never want to). What I do want is that she is comfortable and happy, so that “want to” wins out. When I remind myself to see how the small “have to’s” serve the greater “want to’s,” it encourages me to carry on and helps me feel less overwhelmed. Do it and move on. And maybe reward yourself with chocolate.

3. Remembering Myself


Speaking of rewarding yourself, this next one is a biggie. While embracing the doing of my “have to’s” and “want to’s,” I’ve made sure to carve out time for myself. I identified the ultimate “want to’s”: I want to be healthy, I want to be happy, I want to be a good wife and mother. I want to be patient with others. I want to contribute to my community. I can’t do any of these if I’m exhausted, hungry and stressed.

We don’t need to work around the clock or give without limits, or deny ourselves the occasional nap! Take time for yourself, or else you can’t take care of any of the “have to’s” or “want to’s.” Refueling your own tank is not a luxury, but a necessity; that is, if you want to keep driving. Eat well, drink water, make time to read a good book or talk with a close friend. Or dance! Dancing works for me. You do not cease to be a person the moment you become a parent or a CEO or both. You still have needs that must be met.

Unfortunately, I see it much more frequently with women than men. The female inclination towards nurturing is a beautiful thing and the world runs on it, but turn some of that attention back on yourself. Men do not seem to feel the same level of guilt when taking time for themselves. Both mothers and fathers are parents, and both mothers and fathers are people. Instead of, G‑d forbid, resenting your husband for the personal pursuits he takes time to enjoy, follow suit. We tell ourselves that we are too busy or too tired to do something for ourselves, but that’s not true, and worse, it’s harmful. Stop talking yourself out of that class you’ve been wanting to take, and put in ink that coffee date you’ve rescheduled too many times.

Be a priority to yourself. You will feel better for it, and every other aspect of your life will benefit.

4. Embracing My Mission


Finally, the most crucial motivation for me to embrace all doing in my life is spiritual in nature.

We are put on this earth with a G‑dly mission:Be a priority to yourself to transform its raw materials into holiness. The specifics of that mission are unique to every individual, and they evolve over time, but all of them require you to do something.

When the Jewish people received the Torah from G‑d at Mount Sinai, they said, “We will do and we will hear.” The emphasis was on the doing. They knew there would be times that G‑d’s reasoning for what He required of them might not be clear, but that they would do it anyway because G‑d asked them. It often feels that way in my life. More frequently than I’d like, though my doing is in earnest, I hit a dead-end. Or it feels like I’m merely spinning my wheels. During those times, I can fall back on the fact that I am sincerely seeking out the best way to accomplish the mission G‑d gave me. I want to serve Him; therefore, I have to persevere.

As most days wind to a close, I’m tired, but it’s a happy tired. A hopeful tired. I believe in the work that I’m doing. I know that I’m using my skills and talents to make the world a better place, and that fills me with a deep and energizing sense of purpose. I am raising the next generation and trying to ensure that the world is a more welcoming place for them. I’m directing a women’s production and starting a maternity-leave fund for my community. It’s worth being tired over. I have no doubt that if you tallied up your own list, you’d come to the same conclusion. And if you don’t, maybe it’s time to switch some things on the list.

Everyone has to find what works for them. In doing so, be sure to define your own pace, expectations and harmony, even if it doesn’t look like someone else’s. Try to glimpse the larger “want to” when you feel buried in “have to.” When you live a life dedicated to fulfilling your purpose, the doing is empowering.